At the opening of a new school year, I’m enjoying the chance at a clean slate–new colleagues hired over the summer, new ninth graders and transfer students, all brand new faces to introduce to my library. As I prepare for orientations–whether it’s a full tour or a five minute spiel–I’m re-evaluating my library ground rules. What are the most important things for new students to know? What kind of a space do I want to create for classes and faculty groups alike? How do I convey my educational philosophy in a sentence or two?

When I think about the range of possible library infractions, it really boils down to one question: what’s going to make me the crankiest?

Okay, so library discipline is about more than just avoiding the possibility of a cranky librarian. Ideally we’re creating community standards, with input from the whole range of patrons and employees. But knowing your own pet peeves and hot button issues will also help you–and the rest of your team, whether you’re in a public library or a school–decide what are major infractions and what are minor issues.

What’s the company line? Your rules don’t necessarily have to be identical to those in other parts of your building, but it’s important to know–and respect–the overarching philosophies. Get acquainted with your school or branch’s mission statement. How are your library or department’s guidelines supporting these larger goals?

How do you enforce without alienating? Particularly in a new building or program, teen librarians can be reluctant to come off as disciplinarians. We want to welcome teens to our spaces, not ban them from visiting. This is where establishing rules in collaboration with your teens can be invaluable. If teens themselves agreed upon the rules of the space, they’ll actually help you enforce them–and they have less room to argue with you when they’ve clearly violated those rules.

When do you bring in reinforcements? Whether it’s a verbal dispute or a physical fight, some disciplinary situations in your library are going to require help from other adults–in and out of your building. Make sure you know all the emergency numbers and the quickest way to reach people like security guards, school or building police, and school nurses and counselors.

What are your pet peeves in the library, and how many of them have made their way into formal rules? How do you maintain authority and a welcoming space simultaneously?

About mk Eagle

I'm the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school's yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.

3 Thoughts on “30 Days of Back to School: What Makes You a Cranky Librarian?

  1. Jessica on September 6, 2010 at 9:13 pm said:

    The number 1 rule I emphasized in orientations was no food. Not, as I always explained, because I hate food, but because I really don’t like mice, this building has a mouse problem and I don’t want to find any more in my desk. The students were very understanding and willing to not eat in the library when I explained it that way.

  2. Megan Frazer Blakemore on September 7, 2010 at 7:44 am said:

    I think the question How do you enforce without alienating is an essential one. We’re trying to make our library more like a learning commons. Balancing the ability of students to work together and share art and ideas with the need for their to be a quiet place is tough. You want people to feel welcome, but also to be respectful. It’s tough.

  3. Jessica, food is a Huge issue for me–not because of rodent issues (knock wood!) but because I found myself cleaning up trash in my computer areas every single day after school. It’s a big struggle.

    Megan, the “quiet library” ideal is one I struggle with all the time. Last year we had this great idea to make the library a quiet study zone in between exam blocks during finals, but it turned out that wasn’t what students needed at all–they needed a place to unwind and be social.

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